Rescue workers across the middle of the country were set to resume combing through wreckage Sunday after a flurry of tornadoes ripped through at least six states Friday night, killing at least 90 people.
Officials warned that the toll, which included at least 80 in Kentucky alone, was almost certain to rise as they sifted through the ruins.
The tornadoes tore through states including Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee, said Bill Bunting, operations chief at the Storm Prediction Centre, part of the National Weather Service.
The tornado outbreak killed people who were working the Friday night shifts at a candle factory in Kentucky, where scores are believed to have died, and at an Amazon warehouse in Illinois, where at least six people were killed and where recovery operations were continuing. Officials said Saturday that they did not know how many workers at the warehouse were unaccounted for but that they expected recovery efforts to continue Sunday.
In a speech Saturday afternoon in Delaware, where he was spending the weekend, President Joe Biden said his administration would do “everything it can possibly do to help” the states that had sustained serious damage in the tornado outbreak.
“This is likely to be one of the largest tornado outbreaks in our history,” he said, adding that he had approved the emergency declaration that was requested by Gov. Andy Beshear of Kentucky.
In remarks to the news media after touring some of the hardest-hit places, Beshear paused at times, unable to describe the sheer scale of damage. “The level of devastation is unlike anything I have ever seen,” he said. He called it the most devastating tornado event in Kentucky history.
Several tornadoes touched down in Kentucky, one of them traveling for more than 200 ruinous miles. At least 80 people had been killed in the state, a toll that was likely to rise.
While the destruction was spread throughout western Kentucky, much of the estimated death toll came from a single building, the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory, just southwest of the small city of Mayfield. Officials described an almost unfathomable level of destruction there, a knot of concrete and metal strewn with cars and 55-gallon drums leaking corrosive fluids into the wreckage.
Appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday morning, Beshear said that it would be “a miracle” to find anyone still alive in the factory. He added that across the state, many people were still missing.
In Tennessee, at least four people were confirmed dead, with the worst damage reported in the northwestern corner of the state. In Arkansas, one person died at a Dollar General store in Leachville, and a 94-year-old man was killed when the tornado slammed into a nursing home in the city of Monette.
And in Missouri, at least one person died and two others were injured when a tornado slammed down in the community of Defiance.
Officials in Edwardsville, Illinois, a small city across the Mississippi River from St Louis, said that at least six people had been killed at an Amazon warehouse when a direct hit from a tornado around 8:30 pm Friday caused two of the building’s 40-foot-high concrete walls to collapse.
At a news conference Saturday evening, officials said that a mission initially focused on search and rescue had transitioned to one focused on recovery.
“We don’t expect that anyone could be surviving,” said James Whiteford, chief of the Edwardsville Fire Department. The chief said that the tornado had come at the time of a shift change and that it was unclear how many people would have been in the building.
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